I’ll make a song of pure nothing

A poem by Guilhelm de Poitou/Guillaume IX de Poitiers/William IX, Duke of Aquitaine. He’s likely better known now as the grandfather and source of inheritance of Eleanor of Aquitaine but he was also the first of the troubadours (or at least first whose works at all survived). Here first is W.S. Merwin’s translation (from Mays of Ventadourn, pg 99-100).

I’ll make a song of pure nothing,
not about me or another being,
not about love or being young
or anything.
It came to me while I was sleeping
on my horse riding.

The hour I was born is unknown to me.
I am not happy nor unhappy,
neither aloof nor friendly,
and the choice is not mine:
I am what a fairy made me
at night on a mountain.

I cannot say whether I
am asleep or awake. Somebody tell me.
My heart is nearly broken by
a pain I feel
for which I will not even sigh,
by St. Martial.

I’m sick and fear that I will die
and all I know if it is hearsay.
I want a doctor who pleases me
I don’t know who.
He’ll be good if he can cure me;
if it gets worse, no.

I have a lover I don’t know.
Never saw her. No use to.
No good or ill to me did she do
that I could notice
nor ever was Norman or Frenchman who
was in my house.

I never saw her but love her warmly.
I was never right and she never wronged me.
When I don’t see her I manage nicely,
don’t give a rooster.
I know one with more charm and beauty,
and her better.

I’ve made the verse, whose is unknown,
and I’ll give it to that one
who’ll pass it on to someone
going toward Anjou
so she’ll send back a countersign
in his portmanteau.

And here is the original in Occitan, which is far less terrifyingly odd than first appears if you set it alongside a French translation. But I include it more as textual accompaniment to this performance. I imagine the music is an educated approximation.

Farai un vers de dreit nien,
Non er de mi ni d’autra gen,
Non er d’amor ni de joven,
Ni de ren au,
Qu’enans fo trobatz en durmen
Sus un chivau.

No sai en qual hora-m fui natz,
No soi alegres ni iratz,
No soi estranhs ni soi privatz,
Ni no-n puesc au,
Qu’enaisi fui de nueitz fadatz
Sobr’un pueg au.

No sai cora-m fui endormitz,
Ni cora-m veill, s’om no m’o ditz!
Per pauc no m’es lo cor partitz
D’un dol corau,
E no m’o pretz una fromitz,
Per saint Marsau!

Malautz soi e cremi morir,
E re no sai mas quan n’aug dir.
Metge querrai al mieu albir,
E no-m sai cau:
Bos metges er si-m pot guerir,
Mas non, si-m mau.

Amigu’ ai ieu, non sai qui s’es,
C’anc no la vi, si m’aiut fes,
Ni-m fes que-m plassa ni que-m pes,
Ni no m’en cau
C’anc non ac Norman ni Franses
Dins mon ostau.

Anc non la vi et am la fort,
Anc no-n aic dreit ni no-m fes tort;
Quan no la vei, be m’en deport,
No-m prez un jau,
Qu’ie-n sai gensor e belazor,
E que mai vau.

Fait ai lo vers, no sai de cui,
Et trametrai lo a celui
Que lo-m trameta per autrui,
Enves Peitau,
Que-m tramezes del sieu estui
La contraclau.

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